LOS ANGELES -- A day after being taken out of his bid at the 24th perfect game in Major League Baseball history, Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw woke up on Thursday thinking about some “what ifs.”
What if he wasn’t coming off a serious injury last season? What if he had just one more start to build up to his usual workload? Amid all of those questions, however, Kershaw reiterated that he still believes manager Dave Roberts’ decision to pull him before the eighth inning was the right decision.
“That’s a really difficult position to be in, on both sides,” Kershaw said Thursday. “At the end of the day, the only thing I feel bad for is, if I was a fan, I would want to see somebody finish the game. So, from a fan’s perspective, I do feel bad for that. I wish I could have done it. But yesterday wasn’t the day.”
While Wednesday wasn’t the day for fans to enjoy Kershaw potentially accomplishing yet another incredible feat in his illustrious career, his seven perfect innings against the Twins did remind a lot of people that the future Hall of Famer still has plenty left in the tank.
In his last regular-season start before Wednesday, Kershaw was forced to leave the game with another elbow injury, a recurring issue last season. A couple of weeks later, he received a PRP injection that effectively ruled him out of the postseason. During the offseason, talks about retirement surrounded Kershaw. The left-hander did say he had no real intentions of doing so.
Once the lockout ended, Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman made signing Kershaw his top priority. But nobody in the organization knew exactly how much Kershaw would be able to contribute at the start. Some believed he might need an extended Spring Training to get back on the mound. Others just had no idea what he was going to look like after not picking up a baseball until Jan. 1 due to the injury.
Kershaw answered those questions right away, starting the team’s first game in Spring Training. He went on to lead the team with four Cactus League starts. The left-hander proved to everyone, including himself, that he was fully healthy.
“He’s just different, man,” said Dodgers outfielder Cody Bellinger. “He’s just different.”
Kershaw’s accomplishments over the last 14 seasons prove that the left-hander is, indeed, different. The outside expectations for him were also different this season. For maybe the first time in his career, Kershaw isn’t included in the conversation when people talk about the best pitcher in the Majors. With Walker Buehler’s rise to dominance, Kershaw seemed to be somewhat of an afterthought.
“We wouldn’t have committed to him to come back if we didn’t believe in him performing at that level,” Roberts said. “Clayton obviously believes in the Dodgers and he’s going to be a Dodger for life. He’s one of the best pitchers of our generation.”
If Kershaw isn’t as effective as he once was, somebody forgot to tell him and his slider. On Wednesday, Kershaw recorded 11 of his 13 strikeouts with the slider, the most with the pitch in any start of his career. The 17 whiffs on the slider were the third-most in a start in his career.
“It’s to both sides, the outside and the inside. And he can command it,” Twins third baseman Gio Urshela said about Kershaw’s slider. “He’s really good.”
Kershaw still being “really good” significantly boosts the Dodgers’ chances to win their second World Series title in three seasons. The Dodgers and Kershaw know that, which is why keeping the left-hander healthy will be their main priority moving forward.
“What he said yesterday really set the tone for the 2022 Dodgers, that he’s here to win, and anything other than that would be selfish,” Roberts said. “When you’re talking about a person who has done everything in the game, for him to say that, that resonates in our clubhouse.”